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Winter Camping

Cold Weather Camping Tips

By Brett Coates Guest Writer

1. The biggest rule I can stress, NO COTTON! Even when the body is cold it puts off moisture vapor, and with cotton it gets wet and stays wet. Mixing wet clothing with cold temperatures is a disaster waiting to happen. That means t-shirts, boxers, socks etc…

2. Food and water are fuel to your body. Your body produces heat from burning what you eat and drink. It is important that you stay hydrated and consume more than the usual food (which is no problem for me)!

3. If your feet get cold, put a hat on your head. As your temperature decreases, your body begins to pull heat away from the farthest extremities from your heart first. Your head is the #1 spot your body releases heat. By wearing a hat you are trapping the heat that would otherwise be lost so your body can use it to heat the feet.

4. Always carry disposable hand-warmer or toe-warmer packets with you. The key to these jewels is that they aren’t just for your cold hands and feet, they are great to toss into your sleeping bag before you get in at night. Another trick is to toss them into your boots in the morning when you wake up so that when you go to put your boots on they will be warm. And of course if you are standing around they are great for the jacket pockets and boots too.

5. Keep all clothing you aren’t wearing inside your sleeping bag. Mornings in the winter can be brutal so it’s nice to have warm clothes to put on when you wake up.

6. Keep your water bottle under or inside your sleeping bag. Depending on how cold it is your water can easily be a block of ice when you wake up. Or better yet, you can purchase an insulated sleeve for your Nalgene water bottle. This fits over around the Nalgene bottle tightly and prevents it from freezing. Most authentic outdoor stores will sell them.

7. In the winter I line the bottom of my tent with an emergency blanket. They are small and lightweight to carry and do a great job at reflecting your body heat up instead of into the ground.

8. A Sleeping bags job is to trap heat that your body creates. Winter sleeping bags are thicker so they can trap more heat. When you lay in your bag you are crushing all insulation below you therefore very little heat can be trapped to keep you warm. Ground pads or sleeping mats are made for this purpose. Many people think they are made for comfort, which is true, but it is not the primary function. A sleeping pads primary function is to work with the sleeping bag to trap heat.

9. If it is really cold outside, I boil water and pour it into a Nalgene bottle then wrap it up in a shirt or towel so I can hold it or put it inside my jacket. It is important you have a Nalgene bottle because they don’t melt or lose their shape even with the extreme heat of boiling water. The shirt or towel helps keep it from scalding your skin.

10. When you are winter camping your blood sugar can drop and it is easy to get cold, depressed and lethargic. I have found it is a good idea to carry jolly ranchers or some type of sugary candy as a quick pick-me-up. Plus if you don’t need them for the pick-me-up, toss one or two in a bottle of water adds great flavor.

11. Make sure you have the right stove for your camping conditions. There are two categories of stoves: liquid fuel and canister fuel. Canister fuels don’t work well in extremely cold conditions (15 degrees and below) unless you are at a high altitude. Liquid gas stoves work anywhere at any temperature and any altitude … but they weigh more…

12. If it is too cold stay in a hotel!


Brett Coates is an avid outdoorsman, freelance writer, and manager of Blue Ridge Mountain Sports ( He and his wife reside in Virginia Beach, Virginia where they are active in hiking, camping and leadership ministry at their church. He can be reached at


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